Acts 17 (NLT)
Now for a step over to the New Testament! In preparation for a reading through of 1 Thessalonians, we shall today look at Paul’s initial encounter with the people of Thessalonica.
Paul Preaches in Thessalonica
The Via Egnatia was a road built by the Romans in the second century BCE. It went west from the Bosphorus across Greece (Macedonia, Thrace) to the Adriatic, some 700 miles. Like other major Roman roads, it was nearly 20 feet wide, surfaced with large slabs of carefully fitted stones. It linked Neapolis, Philippi, and Thessalonica. Paul would have walked this very road.
1 Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
The first verse of this chapter is an extraordinary example of economy of writing. It sounds like a pleasant stroll; but in point of fact Philippi was 33 Roman miles from Amphipolis; Amphipolis was 30 miles from Apollonia; and Apollonia was 37 miles from Thessalonica. A journey of over 100 miles is dismissed in a sentence.
2 As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. 3 He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” 4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.
Part of the credit here goes to the believers Paul had left behind in Philipi:
Philippians 4:15-16 (NLT)
As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.
5 But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Paul encountered the same envious reaction to his successful ministry during his first missionary journey in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13: 45 and 50), in Iconium (Acts 14:2 and 5), and in Lystra (Acts 14:19).
They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. 6 Not finding them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they shouted,
The King James Version puts verse 6 as “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”
The Jews had not the slightest doubt that Christianity was a supremely effective thing. T. R. Glover quoted with delight the saying of the child who remarked that the New Testament ended with Revolutions. When Christianity really goes into action it must cause a revolution both in the life of the individual and in the life of society.
“and now they are here disturbing our city, too. 7 And Jason has welcomed them into his home. They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”
Any talk of a rival to the Emperor was strictly forbidden by Rome.
8 The people of the city, as well as the city council, were thrown into turmoil by these reports. 9 So the officials forced Jason and the other believers to post bond, and then they released them.
Paul and Silas in Berea
10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea.
The believers sent Paul to a safe place. Cicero calls Berea an “out-of-the-way town.” Here Paul and his friends can stay until things settle down in Thessalonica.
When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.
13 But when some Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they went there and stirred up trouble. 14 The believers acted at once, sending Paul on to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15 Those escorting Paul went with him all the way to Athens; then they returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to hurry and join him.
Note three things:
The diligence of the Bereans, reading the Scriptures with new eyes.
The venom of the Jews from Thessolonica, who are identifying their aims with God, rather than submitting their ideas to God.
And the courage of Paul, who continues living a clearly dangerous life as he tells the story of Jesus.
What can we learn from these few verses?
I want to be a Berean! — searching the Scriptures to know what the Lord says is true and right! HERE The Choir of Royal Holloway perform Henry Purcell’s verse anthem, ‘Thy Word Is a Lantern’ live in concert, February 2015. Rupert Gough, organ. Listening to this music is a beautiful experience!
Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
I have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed to keep thy righteous judgements.
I am troubled above measure: Quicken me, O Lord, according to thy word.
Let the freewill offerings of my mouth please thee O Lord, and teach me thy judgements.
The ungodly have laid a snare for me, but yet I swerved not from thy commandments.
Thy testimonies have I claimd as mine heritage for ever:
And why? They are the very joy of my heart. Alleluia.
Psalm 119: 105-108 and 110-111